2016 NAG / Nielsen prize for Innovation goes to Helen Adey and Dorothy Atherton
Helen Adey, a much valued members of CUP’s librarian panel, of Nottingham Trent University Library and her colleague Dorothy Atherton, provided a conference highlight with their talk on NTU’s Your Books, More Books initiative [YBMB], which won the NAG / Nielsen Award for Innovation 2016.
In 2014, the Vice-Chancellor of NTU announced that he was setting up an investment fund for pump-priming new projects, and that all departments could apply. The projects had to deliver measurable benefits. More Books, Your Books, which won some of the fund, was aimed at third year undergraduates and postgraduates (as first and second years’ needs are more predictable and therefore more likely to have been catered for already by the Library, using its TALIS Aspire reading list software). The project was founded on the premise that if a third year or postgraduate student needed something that the Library didn’t have for a dissertation or thesis, to tell the Library and it would obtain the resource within three days. The money was awarded on 15th January 2015 and on 20th January the project was up and running.
Inter-Library Loan [ILL] was one of the sources used to supply the books. Using it always involves weighing up the speed of supply which it offers against the cost involved, as funds have to be eked out to cover the whole year. NTU was therefore delighted to have been given the money to ensure that speed of supply could take preference over cost.
The Library publicised its commitment to students on its website, etc. It already had the infrastructure of the existing ILL service and support from its committed and enthusiastic team, who were used to processing all acquisitions within one day. It still had to formulate some criteria for purchasing decisions. For the existing ILL service, it worked to an average spend of £12 – £13 on ILL items. It decided it could now afford to double this, which meant that it would also be able to take advantage of the British Library’s 24-hour service.
Three suppliers were also identified: EBL, Amazon Prime, and the British Library itself. EBL helped to set up an e-book loan model. If a book cost less than BL 24-hour delivery, it was bought outright from Amazon Prime. The British Library had recently developed an on-demand service, meaning that it was possible to see if a book was available for loan on the same day; if not, Amazon Prime would be used again even if the book was more expensive, and if it couldn’t be sourced there it was requested from other suppliers or bought from Amazon Marketplace. Which method was used was left to librarians’ discretion.
The money was ring-fenced but had to be spent on the undergraduates / postgraduates by July. This resulted in a surplus in the ordinary ILL fund which could be allocated to academics and researchers.
After only five days, it became obvious that students really liked the service. The spate of compliments has now died down, reflecting that a service that initially exceeded expectations has now become the expected norm. Targets for the librarians managing the project were to supply 80% of requests within 3 working days. After 20 months, 83% of requests are now hitting the target. Overall, fulfilment rates have increased to 99% (after years of standing at 92% – 93%). The overall average spend per item is £26.23. EBL rentals cost less than the other resources; EBL purchases are the most expensive, but also achieve most usage.
There have been some unintended consequences:
• The ‘book mountain’. At present, all books are added to stock, but some staff think they take up unnecessary space and make unjustifiable extra work for cataloguers.
• ‘Pandora’s box’. The success of the service has been double-edged, because the additional funding has now dried up, but it was felt that the service had to be continued, meaning it must be supported from the normal collection budget.
• The ‘careless student’. The number of requests is manageable, but the number of renewals has gone up significantly. It’s impossible to tell whether the books are really in use or just being hoarded.
• Technophobia. Some students didn’t want the e-book. E-books were chosen over other formats if available, because they are cost-effective and comply with management policy. Therefore, the library has stood firm on this unless there is a special reason for buying print.
As the service has evolved, EBA (Evidence-Based Acquisition) for e-books has been used to prevent librarians from being swamped with ILL requests. Five publishers have participated in this: Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, Wiley, Sage and Bloomsbury. EBA was preferred to PDA (Patron-Driven Access), because with the latter there is a risk of running out of funds before the end of the financial year; also setting up the requisite profiles takes time and it is impossible in any case for the Library to know in advance what students are going to need. The upshot is that £7m of content has been made available at a fraction of the cost; and all the e-books are DRM-free because they’ve been sourced direct from the publishers. Cost per use of these has been less than £5, and is falling.
Problems have included poor or non-existent MARC records; issues with authentication on and off campus; poor provision of usage stats by some (not all) publishers; and one publisher’s customer service system that could not cope with technical queries. It was felt that some publishers were not able to offer adequate support to the decision-making process. After the talk, Helen singled out Cambridge University Press as being the publisher that was most responsive and provided the best records and statistics of all the participating publishers. She also praised the outstanding service she received from Natalie Climas, her Cambridge account manager and Nathan Turner, who supported NTU during Natalie’s maternity leave.
In 2014, in answer to the statement ‘the library resources are good enough for my needs’ for NTU’s responses to the NSS survey, 87% of NTU students agreed; in 2015 this had risen to 91%. Although it is difficult to draw conclusions about the reasons for changes in NSS scores, NTU is confident that the success of the YBMB project was a significant factor.
More about the 2016 NAG Conference
The National Acquisitions Group Conference took place at the Grand Central Hotel in Glasgow on 14th and 15th September, the first time for many years it has been held in Scotland. As the conference is for acquisitions librarians from both academic and public libraries, the programme was very varied, though with an emphasis this year on academia.
Presentations included an account of how the Mackintosh Library was rebuilt after it was gutted by fire in 2014; the Access to Research initiative in public libraries which has been set up by the Publishers Licensing Society and receives strong support from CUP; and, from Emma House of the PA, how publishers are making access to e-content easier for library users. One of the platforms that Emma mentioned particularly in her talk was the newly-launched Cambridge Core.